Innocents Abroad?

london diversity

by Steve Buschbacher

When Mark Twain made his journey through Europe and the Holy Land famously chronicled in his book, Innocents Abroad, there was no social media or television or any way, short of books and word of mouth, to prepare him for the experiences he had. His book, like so many of his works, is funny and insightful.

My wife and I just completed a trip to London with a day trip to Paris. We have all the electronic means to have pretty good expectations for what we were going to see. By this time, who hasn’t seen photos or movies with the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben? What we were looking for, was a way to immerse ourselves in daily life in a different country … to “walk a mile in their shoes”.

We landed at Heathrow in the middle of a rainy day. We waited for an hour to go through customs where we each spent 30 seconds with a very nice customs officer who stamped our passports and let us enter the United Kingdom. We had a pre-arranged ride from the airport to the flat we had rented for our stay. (no hotels for us … how can you get a good flavor for a country if you spend down time in a hotel that is filled with visitors?). Our driver was Turkish. He guided us through the traffic to our little apartment in about 45 minutes.

We unpacked and decided to go for a walk to find something to eat. Caledonian Road in Islington is filled with little shops and restaurants. We walked about 2 kilometers (1 and a quarter miles … see how easily I slipped the metric system in?) and found what turned out to be a great Thai restaurant. After we got back to our flat, it occurred to us that we had spent only 30 seconds with someone who had a true English accent so we determined that, the next day, we would go out in search of English accents like we hear in the movies.

What we found when we ventured out over the next few days was the most cosmopolitan city I’ve ever encountered. Kind of like New York but without the “I’m better than you are” attitude. Everywhere we went, we found open doors and an air of acceptance for us as visitors. I think in London, it’s either that or perish. London is a very congested city. Narrow streets that twist and turn and defy logic (think Boston multiplied by 20). Streets that are filled with pedestrians and traffic at all hours. How those huge double decker buses safely traverse those narrow streets without incident is baffling. One can not live in close proximity to all that diversity and be filled with hate and fear.

12 hours after our plane took off for home, the horrible Manchester bombing occurred. A week later, another terrorist attack took place in London. You can, as the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue wants, fill yourself with hatred and fear of anyone who even slightly resembles what you imagine the attackers to be or you can, as Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London has asked, remain calm even in the face of an increased armed presence. London has seen attacks in the past and they have not all come from people who looked to be of Middle Eastern descent. The I.R.A. caused quite a bit of destruction as well and yet, London police did not round up everyone Irish and send them back across the Irish Sea. They realized then as now, that the horrible attacks were the work of a few soulless killers and not the reason to embark on a campaign of ethnic persecution.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in London and we want to go back. We are not scared off by terrorist attacks. As soon as we change our lives because of terrorists, then the terrorists have begun to win. They have effected change in their name. I will not give in an inch to fear. How about you?